The wealthy pontificating to the poor…



Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well- warmed, and well-fed. - Herman Melville, 1819-1891


And with that comment in mind, our household watched, and cringed, and boiled with anger, as we watched The Vote on TV3 last Wednesday (19 June).

First of all was the  question that TV3 deemed we should consider and reply to;

Our kids: The problem’s not poverty, it’s parenting. Do you agree? Yes. No.”

What a loaded question!

Why not, “Our kids: The problem’s not poverty, it’s low incomes?

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Or, “Our kids: The problem’s not poverty, it’s successive governments enacting neo-liberal policies?

Or – and I personally love this one –  “Our kids: The problem’s not poverty, it’s the middle classes who have grown  comfortable with their lot and have given up on the notion of an egalitarian society?

The problem with the alternative questions is that they involve complex ideas;  recent history; and looking at choices that Middle Class voters have made since 1989. In short, those questions involve thinking.

As the question stood on the night; “The problem’s not poverty, it’s parenting” – there was no real thinking involved. It was all about how people  felt on trigger words such as  social welfare; solo-mums; parental responsibility; etc.

Once those trigger words began to percolate through the minds of aspirationist middle class and angry working-class viewers, the results were wholly predictable; 63% voted ‘Yes’. (And the 36% who voted ‘No’ correlates roughly with the percentage of voters who supported Labour and the Greens at the 2011 general election  – 38.54%).


The Vote 63 - 37

Source: The Vote


If we were ever truly a caring, sharing, egalitarian society, it’s hard to see  how.

The very nature of the question invited an emotive, rather than an considered, intelligent, response.  It practically demanded plain old repetitive bigotry rather than insight, and the three panellists, Christine Rankin, Bob McCoskie, and Hannah Tamaki – all social conservatives – were more then happy to oblige.

Platitudes; cliches,  mis-information,  and smug instructions on how to feed a family on $20 a week… all came from the well-fed; well-clothed; expensively groomed; healthy; and high-income earning likes of Tamaki, McCoskrie, and Rankin.

It fed perfectly into every stereotype that New Zealanders have seen and heard since Once Were Warriors blew in our faces on our big screens in 1994.

And right on cue, the prejudiced; the mis-informed; and the plain spiteful came out and vented their bile on The Vote’s Facebook page. I was going to provide a  few examples – but why bother? We’ve seen that kind of bigotted response already.

So how accurate was the voting response? There were claims that people could send in multiple votes from the same ‘platform’ (cellphone number, IP number, Twitter account).  If so, the result would be rendered meaningless. One could imagine 3,000 Destiny Church members texting repeated ‘Yes’ votes with unholy speed.

Ten text messages, on average, from each member would equate to 30,000 “votes”. And with texting fees kindly waived by telcos, people could text to their hearts’ content. Free of charge. Ad nauseum.

(By contrast, our household studiously played the game fairly; we each voted once only, by text.)

However an unattributed statement from TV3’s ‘The Vote‘,  on Bryan Bruce’s Facebook page, Inside Child Poverty, stated categorically that “you can only vote once on each platform“.


The Vote - only voting once

Acknowledgement: Inside Child Poverty New Zealand


If that is true (and it is by no means a given), then that raises equally disturbing questions about the nature of our society.

If the 63% “Yes” voters are reflective of New Zealanders then that says something about our much vaunted reputation of being a fair-minded, compassionate, egalitarian society.

Perhaps it was never so. Perhaps only a third of us can lay claim to being fair minded and tolerant – whilst the remainder two thirds simply make use of the generosity of their more liberal fellow-Kiwis?

I would like to think that is not true.I desperately want to believe it is not true.

Instead, perhaps the real emotion at play by those Two Thirds is not hatred of the poor – but fear of becoming like them. Add to that mix an unwillingness by many to even accept that poverty exists – hence endlessly repetitive  cliches such as “Real poverty only exists in Africa” or “They spend all their money on Sky, pokies, booze, and cigarettes”.

It’s all a defense mechanism, of course. By denying a problem, you don’t have to do anything about it. Nor feel guilty at not doing anything about it.

My belief is that the poor are being blamed not simply because they are poor – but because they have not succeeded under neo-liberalism. They are poor despite the promises neo-liberal “Bright New Future” . The architects and builders of this Neo-liberal Nirvana don’t like being shown that their new paradigm is severely flawed not working as it should.

That is why there is so much anger being directed at the poor. They are the proof that the School of Chicago theory of economics – that the Market  shall provide – is a fraud.

Neo-liberalism’s acolytes, the  politically powerful; the wealthy; the aspirationist Middle Classes; the technocrats – all  stand accused of failure  by the poorest; most powerless; most vulnerable people in our society. The mere presence of the poor and dispossed points an accusatory finger at the neo-liberal establishment and those in society who support it.

And doesn’t that just piss them off?

So come 2014 (if not earlier) let’s piss Neo-liberal’s Acolytes off a little further. It’s time for a center-left wing government to take office. Because after my shame, anger, and frustration wore of, I was filled with even more determination to play my part in changing our society.

We need to re-set our nation’s moral, social, and economic compass.

And watching The Vote was just the determination I (and our household) needed. So thank you Ms Tamaki, Ms Rankin, and Mr McCoskrie – I feel more motivated than ever to make New Zealand a decent society again.

We will not surrender.


We need to give the homeless and other disenfranchised a voice. Homelessness is not a choice, a decision, a lack of effort.

When I first came to New Zealand there were hardly any homeless people but now there are heaps, so where have we gone wrong?” – Simon Buckingham, Auckland Lawyer and one-time homeless person




Meanwhile, in another Universe far, far away…


£13tn hoard hidden from taxman by global elite

Acknowledgement: The Guardian – £13tn hoard hidden from taxman by global elite



= fs =


  1. Sometimes I revert back to my safe (survival mode) default setting of “fairness amongst humans” (much as I know it’s not true). I knew the program would be like this, and so didn’t watch it. To read this makes me actually feel physically sick.

  2. I completely agree with your summation of why the middle classes distance themselves from the poor. It’s because they fear losing their privileged positions within society. If they can attribute the poors position to subjective personal defects rather than the objective reality of destructive free capitalism. Then they can sleep cosy and worry free in the knowledge “I’m not like that”. To admit we are all only one or two events from destitution, demands the action that would support the struggle of the poor and build a genuine social safety net for those who have had ill fortune.

    Bravo Frank.

  3. You do realise the format of the programme was a debate don’t you? As such they chose a controversial proposition that has a degree of support in the wider society and had two sides put the case for and against. I’d suggest many of the people who voted are simply responding to how the participants of the debate performed rather than any deep seated view on the wider issues. Perhaps they disliked Hone Harawira or simply weren’t convinced by the anti-proposition side. The point is it is not necessarily indicative of anything substantial in wider society.

    • Perhaps they disliked Hone Harawira…

      Another of the trigger words I referred to above, Gosman. Good point.

      or simply weren’t convinced by the anti-proposition side.

      Which is precisely the point. After the last few years of of the problem of child poverty being widely canvassed; with plenty of information; and a major national issue, the question is why they wouldn’t be convinced. Hence the point of my blogpost (which I assume you’vre read and not just reacting to the headline).

  4. Spot on, Frank. One can only hope that as enough of those comfortable middle-class people fall into the abyss of stagnating wages, indebtedness and insecure work, that they will realise that the warped reality sold to them by biased corporate journalism was ultimately a con. Like the people now on the streets of Rio and Ankara, they will wake up to the fact that voting for the selfishness of neoliberalism actually screwed 99% of us over, while the bankers and their millionaire buddies in industry gambled with our savings and took off with our wage increases, lost it all and then used our taxes for bailouts and tax cuts to ensure they could become even richer at our expense. Those same execs and big investors are glad that 300,000 of us can’t get jobs, it means everyone is desperate enough to accept crap wages so they can keep the rest.

    One day, people will get angry. They will protest. But to make sure it doesn’t fizzle out, or that we don’t get bought out or betrayed yet again, the leaders of the labour movement need to plan the alternative vision now that will revive the egalitarian project NZ was once famous for. These recent protests abroad have so far lacked direction and an articulate argument. When the streets finally fill with Kiwis who’ve had enough, we need to be ready with ours.

  5. our much vaunted reputation of being a fair-minded, compassionate, egalitarian society…Perhaps it was never so

    NZ briefly flirted with an economically egalitarian society from around the late 1930s to the 1980s, but I don’t see it being ’embedded in our country’s psyche’- as we are often told. Even our Dear Leader has been known to make this claim, and we all know that he’s full of bollocks at the best of times.

    Individualism is our drug, we’ve been smoking it since the 60s and mainlining it since the 80s.

    Its time that we admitted that we are a selfish and greedy lot, only then will it be possible to change. Sadly, just like last time, it might take a huge economic depression (tick) and a massive war or two (coming) before we begin to treat each other as humans.

    Its strange that we call ourselves an egalitarian nation, when we know we’re not, but that’s the point of propaganda. If we were egalitarian, we wouldn’t need our leaders to keep reinforcing this fantasy. Its no different from the way we kept getting told capitalism is freedom, or that democracy is freedom, or that freedom can be objectively defined.

  6. Hiya Frank,

    Not much is heard in NZ about the US commentary from the right which drowns out all dissenting voices.

    They can be heard loudly touting the work hard/get a job/if you can’t make it you are “lazy” while an increasing number end up in tent cities around the once great USA.

    I wonder if this is where the ideology preached by Rankin/Tamaki/McCocksie will eventually lead us, because it seems to me like this is where we are headed.

  7. Frank, you galvanise my understandings and sentiments. You succinctly articulate my guts where I am not able to due to frustration, anger, and frankly, sadness for this country. Masterly analysis ! Thank you.

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